Fighting Cancer With Flair
Tucson native Mike Guzmán, 28, was barbacking in 2007 at a country club in a small city in Arizona when he saw a documentary on the Travel Channel about Las Vegas’ annual Legends of Bartending flair bartending competition (which concluded in 2011), and “immediately, I knew that was what I was meant to do,” he says. Two years later, as soon as Guzmán turned 21, he decided to move to Denver to finish school and bartend. But another plan was already underway.
“The night before I was scheduled to move, I found a lump in my neck. The next morning, I went to the ER to find out what it was. The doctor came in and told me it could be two things: valley fever [a respiratory fungal infection] or cancer. This news didn’t stop me from moving; I left that day and headed to Colorado. A few days after I moved and got settled in, I went back to the doctor. This time blood tests were done and things didn’t look great. They scheduled a biopsy and it revealed what I feared: cancer. It was worse than we had expected. It had spread to my lungs, liver and bones, and I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma. I started intense chemotherapy and radiation almost immediately. Obviously, with this kind of diagnosis, work became the last thing on my mind, but I still had to continue. I got a job at a TGI Friday’s, thanks to my passion to do flair. I was immediately hooked on practicing and preparing for my first competition.
“Despite how weak, nauseated and lethargic chemo made me feel, I found the drive to practice almost every day so I could be the best behind the bar. I did my first competition at TGI Friday’s in 2009, only months into a long chemo treatment. The crowd was energetic and alive, and I loved being the entertainment. I knew that this was my calling. So I practiced day in and day out—so much so that my doctors were surprised how few side effects I felt. I would do chemo on Thursday morning and be back to work on Friday; I had more energy [than] others my age on the same treatment. The physical nature of flair bartending helped keep not only my body healthier, but my mind and spirit were set on both beating cancer and being an amazing flair bartender.
“I finished my treatments in June 2010, and about that time I went to my first professional flair bartending competition. Since then, I’ve competed in dozens of competitions all over North America and Europe. With the event bartending company I helped start, 5280 Flair out of Denver, I’ve run some of the biggest competitions in the U.S., and I’ve met more amazing people than I can count.”
Now in remission for seven years, Guzmán has lived in Las Vegas for three years and works at Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar in The Linq. He still actively competes, most recently at the Shake It Up Competition at the Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show in March.